A couple of years ago, just before the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving, I made the case in this column for considering it America’s top holiday. Even better than Christmas. I stand by that.
Among the reasons I cited then was that the reason for the holiday – to acknowledge life’s blessings – is something that can apply to all of us, regardless of political or religious beliefs. And gratitude provides physical and emotional benefits, as an article in a Harvard Medical School publication from 2021 reminds us:
“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness,” the article states. “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity and build strong relationships.”
That’s a pretty good collection of paybacks for not much in the way of effort. If daily flossing could lay claim to a cornucopia like that, the world would be enjoying better dental health.
And expressing gratitude shouldn’t be limited to a single day, once a year. The article listed six ways to cultivate it on a regular basis:
• Write a thank-you note
• Thank someone mentally
• Keep a gratitude journal
• Count your blessings
I suspect that few of us have the dedication to make a practice of all those suggestions. And some of them sound pretty much like different approaches for doing the same thing – keeping a gratitude journal and counting your blessings, for example.
Granted, keeping a journal does require more actual activity than simply counting blessings. But you can’t write blessings down unless you’ve first thought them up. Or, I should say, realized them.
And while thanking someone mentally might produce a warm feeling for the thanker, it wouldn’t seem to do much for the thankee, unless these things have a psychic way of delivering benefits.
Like, say, I mentally thank you for some solid you did me, and then you find a $20 bill on the sidewalk. Or a $50 bill or more, depending on the magnitude of the solid. You might not make the connection, but still…
By the way, a thank-you note, according to the article, doesn’t have to be on one of those formal cards you get from the stationery aisle, despite what Miss Manners might advise. Email works fine. Text? Why not?
The praying part, obviously, directs the thanks in a divine direction, under the theory that God is the ultimate source of earthly blessings. As for meditating, the article notes that the blessings can be quite commonplace: “the warmth of the sun, a pleasant sound.”
It’s an important point to remember that blessings come in all sizes and shapes and don’t have to be life-changing or permanent. Few are either of those, but in between those major benedictions comes the daily cascade of minor blessings – some of which come in disguise, as we’ve all witnessed.
Taoism has teachings along that blessing-in-disguise line. If you’re curious, check out the parable about the Chinese farmer and the runaway horse. I’m not pushing Eastern philosophy on you. Just saying.
You will note that I am resisting the familiar columnist crutch of listing the things I am grateful for. Considering how long I’ve been doing this, I’ve probably done such lists before. But I’ve come to think of them as clichéd, so I’ll spare you now.
I’m also not suggesting that life is an endless blessings buffet. It definitely is not. But it sometimes seems that it’s easier to focus on the bad than the good, and I’m a firm believer that negative energy attracts more negative energy, and that positive energy…
You get the point. And, OK, I’ll mention one thing I’m thankful for, especially on Thanksgiving: green bean casserole. My wife is somewhat less thankful for it.
Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.